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‘Vol.3: (The Subliminal Verses)’: Behind Slipknot’s Mind-Altering Third Album
Featureflash Archive / Alamy Stock Photo
In Depth

‘Vol.3: (The Subliminal Verses)’: Behind Slipknot’s Mind-Altering Third Album

Bouncing back after the harrowing ‘Iowa’, nu-metal icons Slipknot made their mainstream breakthrough with ‘Vol.3: (The Subliminal Verses)’.

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Emerging from the darkness after their confrontational Iowa album was overshadowed by national tragedy, Slipknot unexpectedly stepped into the mainstream with their follow-up album, 2004’s Vol.3: (The Subliminal Verses). Spurred on by frontman Corey Taylor’s new-found sobriety, the alt-metal icons expanded their sound into more melodic and experimental territories. Not only did the album capture the cathartic rage and existential turmoil of its era, but it would also lead to commercial success beyond even the band’s wildest expectations.

Here, then, is the full story behind Vol.3: (The Subliminal Verses), a career-defining album that re-established Slipknot as one of the biggest bands of the nu-metal era.

Listen to ‘Vol.3 (The Subliminal Verses)’ here.

The backstory: “When we come back to Slipknot, we’ll once again discover why we love it”

With the US in a state of collective mourning in the aftermath of 9/11, the future was looking particularly bleak for Slipknot fans in 2001. Prior to the terrorist attacks in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania, the group’s pitch-black and misanthropic brand of nu-metal had been resonating strongly with the angst of a generation, but the grief-stricken mood of the nation had seen the tide turn.

Despite receiving favourable reviews upon its release, Slipknot’s second album, Iowa – arguably their darkest and heaviest offering yet – had been released just a few weeks prior to the plane hijackings that led to tragedy. As the band began promoting the record, they quickly found that the nihilistic noise-mongering of songs such as People = Shit didn’t exactly chime with public sentiment. “We had to pass on a lot of tours because of fear,” Corey Taylor later said. “It wasn’t a good time for the country, but it wasn’t a good time for us, either. We got banned at a lot of radio stations and MTV wouldn’t touch us.”

As 2002 rolled around, it was clear that the country still needed time to heal, so Taylor occupied himself by reforming his pre-Slipknot band Stone Sour and recording a post-grunge album, while drummer Joey Jordison teamed up with Static-X guitarist Tripp Eisen for the horror-punk side-project Murderdolls.

“It’s good for us to go out and do stuff,” Taylor later said, “so when we come back to Slipknot, we’ll once again discover why we love it in the first place.” With fans waiting for Slipknot’s third album, it was clear there was still a hunger for nu-metal that had yet to be sated. So when the group finally decided it was time to re-enter the recording studio, the pangs of anticipation were stronger than ever…

The recording: “We just fed off the vibe and the weirdness of the place”

Opting to work with the legendary Def Jam co-founder and Red Hot Chili Peppers producer Rick Rubin, Slipknot began recording their third studio album, Vol.3: (The Subliminal Verses), in 2003. Inspired by their long-standing love of horror-movie theatrics, the sessions took place at a mansion in Los Angeles which had once been owned by Harry Houdini and was believed to be haunted by the spirit of a murder victim. “We just fed off the vibe and the weirdness of the place,” Jordison later told Concert Livewire.

Early efforts at recording the album were hampered not by ghosts, but by Taylor’s drinking habits, prompting the singer to confront his vices. “I was an alcoholic,” he admitted to Contact Music. “It was really bad by the time we were recording Subliminal Verses. I was out of control, hiding Jack Daniel’s bottles under my pillow.” After being given an ultimatum by his wife, Taylor quit drinking midway through recording the album, and his sobriety helped him push on with defiantly cathartic outbursts such as The Blister Exists (“I am the damaged one/All my life and the damage done”).

“Basically we showed up with no direction,” Slipknot percussionist Chris Fehn later said of the recording sessions for Vol.3: (The Subliminal Verses). “Rick Rubin was instrumental in saying, ‘Don’t be afraid to do anything you want on this record,’ and we certainly did that.” Often ripping through takes in an ear-shredding alt-metal frenzy, Joey Jordison’s insurrectionary barrage of double bass-drum hits on Three Nil and Taylor’s furious caterwauling on Opium Of The People found the group reaching boiling point, often threatening to curdle blood into a crimson jelly.

With producer Rubin adopting his famous hands-off method of recording, Taylor would observe how the mastermind of thrash-metal godfathers Slayer sat on the sofa like a guru, stroking his beard while being engulfed by all the noise. “He definitely encouraged us,” the singer later said, crediting Rubin with urging Slipknot to “show that there was more to this band than just what everybody had seen previously”, before adding that the group “really got the shine on us”.

The album’s first single, Duality, was released in May 2004, surprising many Slipknot fans by ditching the curse words in favour of securing a radio-ready comeback single. Unleashing a fiery onslaught of grindcore-style guitar riffs, the song peaked at No.15 in the UK and was full of thwacking trash-can snare hits and an earth-shattering nu-metal breakdown heavy enough to induce whiplash. Aided by a music video that cost up to half a million dollars to make and in which a fan’s house was destroyed, Duality went on to sell over 400,000 copies in the UK, kicking off the album campaign in suitably destructive fashion.

The release: “I think this is probably the best thing we’ve ever done”

Released on 25 May 2004, Vol.3: (The Subliminal Verses) peaked at No.2 on the US Billboard 200 after selling more than 200,000 copies in its first week. “I think this is probably the best thing we’ve ever done,” Taylor told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “It’s definitely more mature. It’s a whole different kind of vision of what we wanted to do.”

From the slow-burning murmur of impending doom on opener Prelude 3.0 to the Slayer-inspired guitar duel on Pulse Of The Maggots, the album found Slipknot pulling from a surprisingly varied box of tricks. Not only was frenzied thrash drumming on the menu (Welcome), but fans also had side orders of post-industrial drone balladry (Circle) and even moments of spoken-word recitations (The Virus Of Life). “We threw some sombre tones in there – some melody, some bold statements,” Taylor admitted. “It’s really gonna show people that just when you thought you figured us out, you don’t know nothing.”

Issued as the album’s second single in October 2004, Vermilion peaked at No.31 in the UK, with Taylor’s gruff-voiced baritone drawl dragging listeners into a pit of neuroses. Impeccably produced, this vitriolic block of Semtex quickly erupts into a highly melodic System Of A Down-style chorus (“I won’t let this build up inside of me”) and some superb solo shredding bathed in wah sustain from guitarist Mick Thomson.

Following their Iowa experience, it was with Vol.3: (The Subliminal Verses) that Slipknot finally won back the airwaves, with MTV scrubbing the group from their blacklist and putting each of the album’s singles in heavy rotation. As their latest creation went platinum in the US, the band were proud of its success, yet also taken aback by it, too – particularly as they made such a huge effort to defy expectations with what they considered to be an “anti-commercial” record. “We’ve done a lot of experimentation on this album. We tried everything,” bassist Paul Gray reflected. “We went in there totally fresh, open-minded and it came out amazing.”

The legacy: “It’s probably the heaviest album that ever hit the Top 3”

Going on to sell over 1.7 million copies worldwide, Vol.3: (The Subliminal Verses) has gone on to become one of Slipknot’s most successful, career-defining records, and it continues to be embraced by fans as one of the group’s best albums. Not only was it a perfectly timed means of course correction after Iowa, but it also saw Slipknot broaden their musical scope and exhibit more lyrical maturity than before, eschewing incoherent rage and empty nihilism in favour of a streamlined nu-metal sound for a post-9/11 world.

Long considered to be one of the best Slipknot songs, the album’s third single, Before I Forget, continued the band’s remarkable run of commercial success, going Top 40 in the UK. “Rick Rubin was convinced the chorus wouldn’t work,” Taylor said in an interview with 98 KUPD. “I told him he was crazy. Lo and behold, it’s one of our biggest songs and we won a Grammy for it.” Picking up the gilded gramophone for Best Metal Performance in 2006, the song has gone on to rack up over 500 million Spotify streams to date.

“We were more sure of ourselves, and we were taking a bigger hand in how we needed to go,” Taylor later said of the band’s approach to creating Vol.3: (The Subliminal Verses). “We knew what we wanted to do, and we just went out and did it. And then the album blew up.” In what seemed like a truly unthinkable prospect mere years beforehand, the nu-metal firebrands were even invited to play on The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien, proving that Slipknot had fully broken through to a mainstream audience in order to become one of the most visible and rousing bands of their generation.

As the years have gone by, Vol.3: (The Subliminal Verses) is rightly considered a jewel in the crown of the nu-metal era. “It’s probably the heaviest album that ever hit the Top 3 on Billboard,” Taylor later noted. “That’s saying something.” By re-emerging from a dark period of US history and expanding their relentlessly heavy style, Slipknot stepped up to remind listeners of the curative power of alt-metal to heal a world trapped in a state of continual mourning. To this day, Vol.3: (The Subliminal Verses) remains a spine-chilling wake-up call, a timeless ode to catharsis that arose from the depths of chaos and uncertainty.

Find out which ‘Subliminal Verses’ tracks rank among the best Slipknot songs.

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